Vendors at the Wednesday Ridgeville Farmers Market. Photo by Tom Benz

Those crawling along in rush hour traffic on Ridge Avenue on Wednesday afternoons might want to take a slight detour and sample the fresh produce at Ridgeville Park’s Farmers Market. It is currently a rather small affair but worth a look for strawberries, potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, spices or whatever happens to be in season that week.

“Patrons seem to enjoy meeting the people who grow the food,” Ridgeville Manager “Kari Lindquist said. “Many of our customers have some connection to the district – T-ball parents, instructors, commissioners – but some just happen to be going by and stop to check us out.”

The principal vendor is Lyons Farm out of Southhaven, MI on the lake’s eastern shore. They grow a variety of crops specifically for sale at farmers markets. Peaches and rasberries are perennial favorites. Ridgeville also offers a popular program where boxes of produce are delivered to customers’ homes.

Katz Cookies also brings its home-made confections to a stand on the grass. Andi Katz lives just around the corner from the park and sells sixteen kinds of cookies which change weekly except for the chocolate chip and ginger chocolate molasses. “When we first blended ginger and molasses together, we weren’t sure how it would taste but it’s become one of our most popular types,” she said.

Farmers markets are booming in popularity as part of the trend to build sustainable communities and reduce food production’s carbon footprint. Ridgeville also offers other ecologically minded programs such as the summer/fall Garden to Table class which teaches the fundamentals of growing and cooking local produce. Sessions take place in the community house kitchen and the large garden in the back. The instructors are master gardeners and horticulture specialists.

This is just one of several initiatives offered through the Ridgeville Park District, an independent entity, which helps oversee the park system in Southeast Evanston. The area encompasses Howard to Greenleaf streets.

“We’re proud of the diversity of different income distributions we have here,” Ms. Lindquist said. “We want to promote sports and cultural experiences, as well as maintain nice green spaces for area residents.”

The district helps sponsor a food sharing program through collection of excess produce around Evanston and coordination with “Edible Evanston” to donate to the Harvest Food Pantry. It runs mini camps which involve themes from wizards to “time travel,” featuring the art and history of certain periods.

There are classes for writing, canning fruit, ballet and tap dancing, and concerts are occasionally performed at the field house. Shakespeare productions by Arc and Mudlark theaters, the latter sporting a student cast, are upcoming.

The market runs until October and is open to expanding its vendors with different kinds of food. Link cards are accepted. Anyone in the mood for a mid-week break for something healthy might want to wander over to the booths at Ridge and Seward. It would give a boost to local growers, the Ridgeville District and perhaps the planet itself.